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March 3, 2019

The International Political Perturbations of 5G

March 3, 2019- The 5G next generation wireless standard is being touted as the “Next Big Thing” in communications technologies. As mentioned in the  blog post of February 19,2019 5G – Hype or Reality?, 5G is a hot political football across multiple dimensions. These relate to money, politics, international trade negotiations to mention a few. This blog will look at the international dimensions.

To recap, 5G wireless millimeter waves present technical challenges:

  • Obstacles: Millimeter waves are easily thwarted by things such as walls, people, vegetation and even rain.
  • Range: Millimeter waves are less reliable over long distances.
  • Connectivity: 5G cells require broadband connections to reach the Internet. Carriers will be required to lay more fiber-optic cable to connect 5G cells.
  • Density: Contrast the infrastructure requirements of 4G LTE and 5G. Today one 4G LTE cell covers about one square mile, give or take. To provide the same geographical coverage, approximately 50-60 5G small cells are necessary. Depending upon location and surrounding environment, a 5G cell transmits distances ranging from 200 to 1000 feet.

5G rollouts will require a much higher density of micro cells and fiber optic connections to the Internet. For 5G to become a reality with quality coverage in urban and thickly populated areas, there is a lot at stake for the equipment and infrastructure providers. How many billions of dollars of infrastructure equipment investment will be required for the carriers to deliver 5G services? And these investments certainly do not consider the business opportunity to provide 5G service in less densely settled areas.

The global telecom equipment suppliers vying for 5G business include Finland‘s Nokia Corporation, Sweden’s Ericsson AB, and China’s Huawei Technologies and to a lesser extent China’s ZTE. U.S. pressure on Huawei is echoing around the world. The administration in Washington has prohibited Huawei equipment sales in the United States and is pushing Western and other countries to avoid using Huawei equipment. The United States is saying the company could be forced by Beijing to spy for China. The United States warns that using Huawei equipment to upgrade telecom networks presents major cybersecurity and espionage threats. Huawei categorically denies these accusations.

Despite these denials, a $400 million video surveillance project (non 5G) in the Philippines that calls for installing 12,000 closed circuit television cameras in the capital of Manila and Davao has hit a snag. The “Safe Philippines” deal signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country in November faces strong opposition in the Philippines’ Congress. Funding has been blocked and a resolution in the Senate calls for an inquiry into possible national security risks. The lawmakers’ fears are likely exacerbated by the Philippines’ long running dispute with People’s Republic of China over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea.  Other countries involved in these territorial disputes are Republic of China (Taiwan) and the four ASEAN countries of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.

Washington’s global push to sideline China’s Huawei Technologies has hit a roadblock in India, the world’s largest democracy. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), an Indian government report estimates that Indian mobile carriers are estimated to spend $100 billion over the next five to seven years to build out their 5G infrastructure. A spokesperson from the Cellular Operators Association of India said that “the perception here is that the U.S. action is more a matter of foreign policy”. The WSJ reports that a senior Indian official said that India wants to reap the rewards of 5G and that it will select its equipment suppliers “on our terms, not under pressure from the U.S”.

The U.S. effort to thwart Huawei suffered a setback this week in Germany. Government officials there are leaning toward letting Huawei participate in building out the nation’s high-speed internet infrastructure.  Germany’s cybersecurity agency with help from the U.S. and other allies could not substantiate that Huawei could use its equipment to clandestinely hack off data.

In my readings of numerous articles, I get the impression that the U.S. pressure on Huawei is another negotiating tactic in the Chinese – American trade talks. Just my opinion….

Hopefully this blog has provided the reader insights into the international politics of 5G. And will encourage deeper investigation.

Blog post number three will drill down in more local issues pertinent to cities, the FCC, state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. Stay tuned!

Written by: Chris Davis
Date: March 3, 2019

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